The accelerating trend away from livebaiting has resulted in a wider variety of deadbaits being used, with more imagination, by anglers concentrating on more species than simply the pike.
The gradual acceptance of dead fish as a highly successful pike fishing bait during the late 1950s will be recorded by angling historians as a fortunate turn of fate. Prior to this, pike fishing took place with a live bait, which meant catching and con-veying fish until they could be mounted and used on snap-tackle mounts—a method which entailed considerable inconvenience for both fish and fishermen.
Against this style was a growing lobby of anti-blood sport agitators who were pressing for prosecutions against those who used live fish, alleging cruelty when hooks were mounted into them. River Boards, strengthened by new legislation, were introducing bye-laws prohibiting the use of livebaits because of the risk of spreading disease where baits were transported and used in strange waters. Finally, con-servationists were raising their voices at the number of immature fish taken and used for livebaits, stressing that this denuded waters of future breeding stock.
Deadbaits are just as successful as livebaits—at times even more so—and there can be no element of cruelty in mounting them for fishing. They can be easily carried, and need not be freshwater fish, thus silencing the conservationist objections. The angler also has a choice in the size of bait, from a small sprat weighing ounces, to a large mackerel weighing over a pound. Certain freshwater fisheries allow a limited number of fish to be removed as baits, and where this is legal, naturally they may be killed and used to augment the variety.
Freshwater crayfish are rightly regarded by chub specialists as a first-class deadbait. Either the whole creature or its succulent tail section makes a deadly offering. Un- fortunately they are difficult to find but many inhabit the clear chalk-streams of the south of England. Fresh bait is essential before you can catch crayfish: offal from a but-chers is as good as any. Tie it to the bottom of a weighted dropnet, which can then be lowered close to bridge pilings or lock gates. If the banks are rocky, so much the better as crays like nothing better than a deep dark hole. The net is allowed to rest for about 15 minutes and then brought swiftly to the surface. If you use a deepish net there is less chance of your catch getting out during the journey to the surface.
Provided they are frozen directly I after capture, crayfish will remain in | perfect condition for a long time. You can preserve them, too, in a formalin-waterglycerine mix and a screw top air tight jar. Pack them head downwards in the jar.
Kept in preservatives the bait obviously takes on a most unnatural smell. This can be reduced by running cold water over them for several hours before use, then dipping them in pilchard oil.
Keep deadbaits frozen
All deadbaits are best deep frozen until required, and they should be graded into species and according to size, then bagged and frozen in small batches so that enough for a day’s fishing can be removed and defrosted with the minimum in-convenience and waste. Time and trouble spent in freezing each fish straight away will pay when it comes to mounting the bait, and during casting, when twisted fish can often affect both the distance and the accuracy.
Fishing with static deadbaits is by far the most common technique, and it requires a rod soft enough in its action to cast a dead weight over a long distance. Fasttaper, tip-actioned rods will snatch the bait from its hook in casting. Whether a multiplying reel or a fixed-spool is used is largely a matter of preference and cost. But it is worth remembering that heavy baits, con-stantly reeled in and cast during the day, impose a great strain on the line: and the multiplier has fewer line angles along the rod.
Match the line to the rod
The weight of the line used in dead-baiting is equally important, and care should be taken to match it to the rod. Lines that are too thick strain the rod and restrict casting distances: those that are too light will strain and are liable to suddenly snap during the cast.
Unlike livebaiting, the majority of deadbaits are fished on, or close to the bottom. If ledgering is adopted as the style of fishing then there will be little problem with end tackle —the weight of the bait will rule out the need for a large supply of ledger leads, stop beads and so on. But many anglers prefer to use a float, maintaining that with it they can see exactly where the bait is lying and note its slightest movement. A further argument for float fishing a deadbait is that any drift across the surface will ultimately move the bait, and this slow movement can often be used with advantage.
Naturally, when a float is used, it must be capable of sliding up the line, with a stop knot (a short length of nylon tied with several overhand loops) fixed on to the line to check the float at the correct depth, and a small lead fixed above the trace to cock and prevent the float jamming below the surface after it has been cast. Unless the intention is to allow the bait to drift, then the smaller the float the better.
There are innumerable deadbait hook rigs which can be used, some with four or five treble hooks that take time and patience to mount.
Generally, the fewer hooks the better. Fine-wire trebles, sharpened and checked for temper, can easily be mounted on to cabled Alasticum. Their size should match the bait being used because small trebles combined with a large bait obviously reduce the chance of hooking on the strike, and large trebles on a small bait make the whole rig cumbersome.
Probably the most popular rig is the deadbait snap-tackle. Two trebles, equal in size, are mounted on to a trace, their spacing varying according to the size of bait used. One treble is mounted close to the tail, the other into the side in front of the dorsal fin. The trace is then fed under the gill cover and out through the mouth, and tied to the line through the medium of a swivel. If extra-long-distance casts are to be made, then three or four turns of nylon round the body will help to prevent it breaking away from the hooks during the cast.
The alternative method of moun-ting is with the end treble behind the gill and the second in the side, level with the dorsal fin. The trace is then threaded, with a baiting needle, through the flesh and out through the tail, after which a swivel can be mounted and the line tied to it. The advantage of mounting in this way is that the bait will travel head-first and not backwards, as can happen with the tail-first method.
A lifelike drifting rig
A useful drifting deadbait rig is made by securing a split ring into the eye of a treble. To this is attached a short length of trace that terminates with a similar-sized tre-ble and another separate length of trace, which finishes with the link swivel for attaching the reel line. The bait is mounted with one hook of the end treble through both lips, and two hooks of the split-ringed treble through the back of the fish at the dorsal fin. Mounted in this way, the bait hangs like a livebait, and when fished in mid-water moves freely with any surface drift.
Giving a deadbait its ‘wobble’
Naturally, wobbled baits must be mounted so that they can be retrieved head first through the water, and the simple snap-tackle rig outlined earlier, modified by mounting it so that the tail section is pulled forward into a curve, will provide an ideal slow-wobble and combined twist. To help keep it down on the bottom, use a thin length of lead or zinc pushed into the mouth and passed into the stomach of the bait.
Soft wood with end pieces allows trebles and traces to be safely secured, and when slid into an emp-ty tin, will not snag other items of tackle. Baits themselves are best put in leak-proof Tupperware boxes.
A deadbait is only as successful as its angler allows. Cast carelessly into the water in the hope that it will be discovered, it is generally un-productive. The water should be studied, plumbed if possible, and varying depths noted on a simple sketch chart. Items of cover—lily and weedbeds, heavy rush and flag-lined banks—are worth special attention, even though some tackle may be lost.
One method worth using over submerged weedbeds is to inflate the belly of a whole fish with a little air, using a hypodermic syringe. A very small amount is needed to make it float just 3in or so above the bottom. To ensure that just enough air has been injected, drop the bait into water at your feet and watch for its position against the bed. An even better method is to inject pilchard oil as well, with the hypodermic, at various spots along the bait’s body, just below the skin. The oil will soon seep out and form an attractive slick.
Although most deadbait fishing is regarded as a static, or possibly a drifting style, dead fish also make excellent ‘wobbler’ lures. They have all the attraction of spinners plus an ease of casting that puts long distances within range. An added bonus is the cost of wobble baits; they can be used as an alternative to expensive spinners.
Once in place, the bait can be given a curve and the shape will be retained by the metal strip.
After casting, the bait should be allowed to sink to the bottom before the retrieve begins. Turning the reel in a succession of slow turns with a stop every few seconds will cause the bait to adopt a rise and fall pattern that few fish can resist. The strike must be immediate, and no time allowed for turning as when fishing a stationary deadbait.
Is the whole concept of returning small fish a well intentioned but non-sensical attempt to protect fish species? Dick Walker would like to see the whole jumble of laws dismantled For more than a century, it has been customary for the angler to return small fish alive, and the first of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Acts (1923) empowered the then Regional Fisheries Boards to enforce by-laws making it unlawful to kill fish below certain sizes. Sizes were laid down by the boards for different species. Confusion arose when different boards decided not only on different sizes, but on different methods of measurement.
Nevertheless, the principle was bas- ed on seemingly logical grounds —saving small fish to let them grow big. In some waters this has actually happened, but not in others—par-ticularly coarse fish waters. Often, the only result is an overpopulation of the water, which inhibits growth of small fish and means that they re-main stunted. They do, however, continue to breed normally, and this only increases the problem. In fact, the greater the number, the smaller the fish.
No one has offered a conclusive explanation for this stunting, but there are many possibilities. For ex- ample, stunted roach, rudd, bream and perch are usually found in waters that are constantly muddied or coloured. Muddied water is caused by several things—heavy boat traffic, especially powered craft, sand and gravel extraction, industrial and municipal waste, extensive land drainage, or even the bottom-feeding activities of fish like carp and bream. But, however it is caused, it prevents light from reaching the bottom, so inhibiting water weeds and algae, and in turn, the insects, molluscs, crustaceans and other organisms on which the fish feed.
Muddy water also curtails the ac-tivities of all sorts of predators —grebes, herons, kingfishers, and fish like pike and perch. They are less successful in killing their prey when they cannot see in the unclear water; consequently prey fish are more numerous.
The usual remedy when waters are overpopulated with small fish is to introduce pike, but this does not succeed if the overpopulation is caused by muddy water. The only outcome will be an equal number of prey fish, which grow no larger, accompanied by stunted pike.
Another explanation for stunted growth is that in order to grow, some species of fish need to change their diet at various growth stages. Thus, if a succession of different items is not present, growth ceases at the stage where a new item would be necessary. For example, it is thought that when roach attain a length of 6in or 7in, they need to eat water snails to continue their growth. If water snails are not pre-sent, the roach stop growing, even if plenty of other food is available.
Other causes of growth failure may include the effects of insecti-cides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers, all of which are used abun- dantly and in increasing quantities, and which are dissolved by rainfall which drains off the land and into lakes and rivers.
Size limit for returning fish? But whatever the reasons for lack of growth, insisting on returning alive all fish below certain size limits has no useful purpose. In fact, it might be wiser to remove the small fish caught by anglers.
Another argument against imposing size limits is the habit anglers now have of returning alive all the fish they catch—which has the same, usually harmful, effect as the imposed size limits. Fish do not live and grow for ever, and man has removed all the natural predators on the larger fish. White-tailed fish eagles are extinct in Britain, otters rare, and ospreys even rarer. Thus there is a strong case for the annual removal of a certain proportion of fish from many waters—the proportion being calculated according to biological surveys of the waters.
Before the imposition of size limits, or the practice of returning live fish to the water, the fish in Bri-tain’s rivers and lakes were just as numerous and as large as they are today. In France, anglers kill their catches and even small fish are killed and eaten, yet this does not empty the waters of fish—not even public waters. In Britain, much money and well-meant effort is wasted in transferring undersized, stunted fish from one water to another already overcrowded.
Needs of big fish
Even when large fish are moved to a water that holds only small ones, they often rapidly lose condition and die. This is because the waters lack what is needed to produce large fish. It is therefore useless to introduce fish except in the case of ‘put-and-take’ trout fisheries where they will be caught and killed within a few weeks of their introduction.
Except in artificially stocked trout waters, the legislation controlling the size and number of fish an angler may kill does not appear to improve the fish stocks—or even the sporting potential of the waters.